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Cardiac defense in response to imminent threat in women with multiple trauma and severe PTSD


  • We thank the respondents who participated in the study with great courage and openness. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the European Refugee Fund funded the project. We are grateful to Heike Riedke and Ursula Lommen for their logistical support, James Moran for helping with data acquisition, and Alexandra Geist, Charotte Salmen, and Franziska Unholzer for supporting the interviews and data administration. Thanks to Katalin Dohrmann, Julia Morath, Maria Roth, and Roland Weierstall for supporting the interviews.

Address correspondence to: Inga Schalinski, Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, P.O. Box 23/24, 78457 Konstanz, Germany. E-mail:


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arises as a long-term result of exposure to trauma and brings with it an altered autonomic response to potentially threatening stimuli. The present study investigates the dynamic sequence of cardiac defense in women with and without PTSD. An acoustic noise of 0.5-s duration and 105 dB was used to elicit the cardiac defense reaction. The stimulus was repeated three times. Within the PTSD sample, respondents who suffered from more severe PTSD showed a higher heart rate at rest, a higher baseline, and a greater response. Compared to the healthy subjects, the PTSD group showed an elevated heart rate from 6 s to 25 s following the presentation of the first stimulus. There was evidence of habituation in the PTSD group and hints of differential effects on the cardiac defense of traumatic experiences with a high proximity of danger.